Today marks the second day in a row that I've gone out for a morning bike ride & run. Yesterday, I ran 4 miles. Today I just did a 5k, which is 3.1 miles. Both times it was still a challenge. I'm trying to figure out why -- is it the heat & humidity, the fact that I'm running alone (vs. with friends most of the time in Iowa), or that I'm biking to the trail first and challenging my legs by doing so? Regardless, I didn't walk or stop during my run either day. Yesterday was the first time since arriving in Texas that I've hit the 4 mile mark without any walking intervals or resting. Honestly, it was a challenge to do that, but I made it through with some help.
Though I was alone physically, I thought about some of the most important people in my running life. I thought about Lisa Peterson, who introduced me to running in 2003. I thought about Laura Dillavou and how cheerful she is on runs, saying "Hi there!" or "Good morning!" ot others on the trail to keep our energy levels up. I thought about the Lady Byrd Running Club in Des Moines -- Jenny Chung, Justin Frerichs, their dog Lady Byrd, Kristine Dineen, and Gabby Carlson. I thought of how each of these people adds something to a long run -- motivation, laughs, inspiration, toughness. I imagined them by my side and thought of how, when I've been tired, I've pulled through on other runs in order to not let the "team" down.
Then I thought about Brian....he's been at the finish line for almost all my races (I didn't make him do that for short runs, like 5Ks, or Living History Farms, which is usually brutally cold -- one year Kristine and I finished in the snow!). Three full marathons, a few halfs, and various other road races in the 7 years I've been running. One year, when bronchitis and the stomach flu wreaked havoc on my training, thinking of him at the finish line was the only thing that made want to keep running Dam to Dam.
But the most I've ever needed and appreciated Brian on a race day was last June when I ran the Marathon to Marathon, my most recent 26.2 miler. It started in Storm Lake, IA and ended in Marathon, IA. I trained and ran the race with my friends Kristine and Laura. The three of us started the race together and separated according to our personal paces around the halfway mark. The race was mostly country roads, highways flanked by cornfields and dairy cows. The small number of runners, combined with my relatively slow pace, made it easy for spectators to cheer on runners at many points along the course. For the last half of the race, Brian was there to cheer me on about every two miles! He'd cheer me on, then drive non-race gravel roads in a big square back to the highway a couple miles down my path. It was amazing. I knew I would be pushing it to beat my last marathon time, but I really wanted to get a new PR (personal record). He knew what my best time was and the pace I was running, and he was well aware of how tight my timeline was for hitting my time target. Around mile 20, I told him, "I don't know if I'll beat my time...it's going to be close." He said, "I know. You'll do it." I could see the concern on his face, knowing how little wiggle room I had. We both knew that the last 6.2 miles are the last half of the race. Anyone who's done a marathon will tell you how difficult the last stretch is.
As I forged ahead that June morning, I knew Brian would be so proud if I got a new PR, but that he would still be proud of me if I didn't. I knew he'd feel bad for me, knowing I'd be disappointed, but he wouldn't be disappointed in me. About mile 22, a blister on my toe popped. I yelled out, staggered for a few steps, walked a couple steps (literally two or three!), then kept running. I kept a close eye on Garmin so I made sure not to let my pace slip. I beat my previous best time by less than two minutes. It was incredible, and the support from Brian and others who were relentless in cheering me on made all the difference.
As I neared the end of my 4 mile run yesterday and was starting to struggle, I imagined Brian at the finish line. I knew he'd be proud of me whether I kept up the running or I had to walk. But I wanted to hurry up and cross that finish line and get that hug from him the way I did last June. That's what kept me running. I felt him with me in the light breeze that began as soon as I asked him for help -- a breeze that took just enough bite out of the muggy air and scorching sun for me to keep running.
I also had another realization as I charged toward the 4 mile mark yesterday. When I run along Town Lake, I start (and, therefore end) my out-and-back run with a bridge. The bridge is slightly curved so you can't see the other side when you first approach it, so it is easy to imagine whatever you want on the other side. The parallel between that bridge and the metaphorical "bridge" that is used to refer to passing away (perhaps you've heard the expression "cross the rainbow bridge") struck me. It occurred to me that I was imagining Brian on the other side of the bridge on the trail, just like he's on the other side of the bridge in another place that we can only imagine now. It also hit me that the entire rest of my life, I'll be on a journey toward that bridge and toward him. Just like a training run in the heat, it will be a difficult journey and I will need the support of my friends to make it. Just like a run along Town Lake in the heat, it can be miserable but is still beautiful and offers many pleasures -- even when I'm struggling to keep running, there are beautiful trees, families enjoying picnics, sculptures, friendly dogs, rolling meadows, and turtles sunning on logs on the banks of the lake. Life may be difficult for me, but it is still full of good things. The wisdom of Kristine's words rang so true again in that moment -- "Life isn't easy, but it's good."
While I hope the rest of my journey in life isn't as hard as that four mile run, I know that even if it is, there will also be goodness and beauty all around me. I can appreciate that, even when I gasping for air and struggling to keep going.